What is neurodiversity?

4 different leaves on a wooden table

There is a growing group of people who believe that neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human difference.

Neurodiversity is an understanding that not all brains work in the same way. Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences are natural and should be respected as such.

The term Neurodiversity was first coined in 1998 by autism advocate, philosopher, and cognitive scientist, Judy Singer. It is an umbrella term meant to encompass all different types of neurological variations including but not limited to:

  • Neurotypical
  • Autism / Asperger’s Syndrome
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dysgraphia

This includes variations in intellectual ability (intelligence), learning styles (learning disabilities), emotional regulation (social anxiety) and sensory sensitivity (sensory processing disorder).

The neurodiversity movement is gaining momentum as neurodiverse individuals call for the understanding that not everyone thinks or processes information the same way.  Some neurodivergent individuals share their neurodiverse conditions as a strength, with others stating that it can cause social isolation and other issues.

Neurodiversity is sometimes confused with being on the autism spectrum, but neurodiversity is its own unique term.

As the neurodiversity movement grows, more neurodiversity-friendly policies and programs are being developed. The wonderful thing about the term neurodiversity is that it covers all brain types, so when we look to support those who may struggle with some executive functioning processes, we are also supporting an individual who maybe experiencing stress, or an individual who has a lot to manage at that particular moment in time.

Benefits to being neurodiverse

There are many different types of brains and they can be classified in a number of ways. The neurotypical brain has a tendency to be more traditional in thinking and day-to-day behaviour. The brains of neurodiverse individuals have a tendency be aware of things that are not seen by the neurotypical brain, which allows for new perspectives on old problems.

Neurodiverse people often have a desire to help others because they know their own personal struggles, and understand them better than others. There is a common understanding of the complex way that information is received and processed.

Challenges faced by neurodiverse individuals

Many neurodiverse individuals face a number of challenges in their personal and professional lives. These might include difficulties working coherently, understanding non-verbal communication, or trouble fitting into adult social situations. Some of the most common neurodiverse conditions include:

  • Dyslexia. Individuals have difficulty learning and reading. This can make it difficult to learn new skills and to read for pleasure. However, there are things that can be done to help neurodiverse people with dyslexia for example using assistive technology.
  • Autism affects how people experience the world. People on the spectrum have difficulties relating to others in the way society expects and can be viewed as socially awkward. However, this does not mean that autistic individuals are incapable of learning. Many autistic individuals can learn new skills and go on to be very successful. Having an understanding of this condition can make a huge difference to an autistic individual when support can be offered in a respectful way.
  • ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This means that individuals have trouble focusing and doing tasks that require concentration. It is also common for people to have trouble finishing tasks and staying on track. ADHD is a common condition for children and adults. However, adults with ADHD can still learn and be successful, managing ADHD becomes easier with age.
  • Dyscalculia. People with dyscalculia have trouble with number processing. It’s also common for them to have trouble with skills, such as reading and spelling. Reading an analogue clock can pose a challenge as well as managing money.
  • Tourette syndrome, also called Tourette’s Disorder. Symptoms include sudden, rapid, repetitive movements or sounds that are involuntary and happen many times each day.

It is important to remember that neurodiversity is a level of neurological variation in the human population and includes neurotypical brains as well as brains that are neurodiverse.

The way that we are taught to think about neurodiversity and disability rights has a lot to do with whether we’re taught that disability is a bad thing.

Some people think that people with disabilities should be treated with dignity and respect. Others think that people with disabilities are people who are “less than” and need to be fixed.

More and more people who identify as having a neurodiverse condition are teaching the world that these differences are a part of what makes us human, and shouldn’t be treated as a flaw or a disability.

Neurodiversity is important to disability rights because it is a way that we learn to accept and value differences in all kinds of ways. By accepting and embracing differences in personality, visual or auditory processing, we are becoming more tolerant of disability. With acceptance and tolerance comes respect and positive outcomes for all.